Though the critical functions of money in sustaining the economic system as a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value is well known, there has been little discussion on the close similarity between the principles underlying the functions of money in the economy and that of faith and religion in the electoral behavior and political economy of India. The economic dimensions of voting behavior in India is extremely unique as it reflects a complex decision making process by the electorate intermixing the principles of economics with that of faith and religion.
Theoretical analysis of electoral behavior are largely based on electoral experiences in the democracies of Western Europe and North America focusing on political psychology of voters without much attention to the underlying economic principles. They are more of a political analysis of how electorate makes informed political choice despite their relatively low level of political sophistication and understanding of the intricacies of the power strategies of political parties . Psychological analysis of electoral ergonomics have also identified the role of emotions and affective influence in voting behavior i.e surprise, anger, anxiety, fear, pride, influence of political campaigns, pre-poll surveys, altruism, emotions and emotional bias.
In the Indian context, though there is little doubt that faith and religion is a major determinant of voting behavior, the huge anticipated economic benefits offered by the political parties to the poor and vulnerable through their election manifesto makes voting as a major economic decision making process. As electoral choice have a deep bearing on the welfare schemes for the poor, voters find themselves as major stakeholders in the electoral process. It is in this context that the economic dimensions of voting behavior in India assumes major importance as it is seen as a choice with serious welfare implications to the vast majority of the poor.
The anticipated economic benefits of electoral choice tends to make voting as a new form purchasing power with the electorate who tend to utilize vote carefully as an economic decision making process as an electoral choice exercised through votes is capable of performing most of the basic functions of money in the modern economy. Thus the electorate in India have realized that while money represents the economic purchasing power which empowers them with the capacity to purchase goods and services, vote represents political purchasing power which empowers them to choose the political leaders and party which would form the government. Thus for the general public and particularly for the vast majority of poor, electoral choice in India is a highly complex balancing act between political choice and economic decision making .
While one of the basic functions of money is to serve as a “medium of exchange”, faith and religion have emerged as a “medium of exchange” for votes in the modern elections. One of the adverse fall out of this development in the political economy of the country is that issues relating to faith and religion have taken precedence over critical economic issues facing the country like poverty , corruption and governance reforms, pollution control and environmental safety, ensuring basic needs like food security, housing, water supply and sanitation, improved infrastructure in education, health etc.
The transition of a system of electoral preferences of voters from critical socio- economic issues towards those based on faith and religion is in fact rooted on the economic principles of the” medium of exchange” governing the role of money in the modern economic system with votes acting as a powerful medium of exchange based on preferences of faith and religion.
Another powerful role played by faith and religion in electoral politics is identical to the pivotal role played by money in the modern economic system as a “unit of account” where the value of goods and services are expressed in terms of money serving as a common denominator as well as facilitating comparison of different prices reflecting the relative value of different goods and services.
The thrust of the political economy of voting as a “unit of account” is based on the value attached to issues relating to faith and religion enabling the voter to make an assessment of the “comparative advantage” of voting for a political party based on his preferences of faith and religion. Thus for the larger majority of voters, each political party assumes an “invisible value” as a “ unit of account” in electoral politics causing considerable inter-party competition to maximize its value as a unit account among the electorate.
While money is saved as a non-perishable “store of value”, both voters and political parties look upon faith and religion as a “ commodity” with high store of value and long shelf-life which can be utilized for exchange of goods and services if the party is elected to power. The large number of socio-economic welfare schemes included in the political manifesto of various political parties prior to the election is based on the assumption that each political party should maximize its image among the electorate as an attractive “store of value” for various segments of society for which faith and religion becomes an indispensable and the most attractive ingredient.
Considering the major socio-economic issues confronting the country particularly the growing unrest among debt ridden farmers and unemployed youth, there is need to refocus attention to resolve these critical issues rather than harping on divisive issues with little economic content. Some political parties of the country have grossly underestimated the economic decision making potential of the Indian electorate and are under the illusion that issues on faith and religion are more important than critical socio-economic issues facing the country.